A Jewish definition of messiah may be based on a statement of our sages from the Talmud: “The only difference between the world today and the world after the messiah comes is that when the messiah comes we will be free of foreign subjugation.”
Given this definition there are no grounds for debate with Christians over the authenticity of their messiah. It was clear to all their leader was not politically the “King of the Jews.” As he failed to provide physical, political salvation, in declaring him messiah the early Christians were re-defining messiah as one who brings spiritual salvation. Whether or not their leader brought spiritual salvation is another question; but it is clear that he did not meet the Jewish definition of messiah.
The Christian ideal of a messiah is in many ways a good idea; after all, we certainly need spiritual redemption and salvation as much as we need political salvation. But our sages believed that we can be spiritually strong only when our material needs are met. For them this meant the absence of poverty and political oppression. Our sages saw the end of political oppression as a prerequisite to spiritual health, just as God saw the end of our Slavery in Egypt as necessary before we could begin to accept God’s mitzvot and our role as God’s workers in this world.
The refrain “Let My People Go” rings in our ears from one Pesah to the next, but famous as the line is, it is not the complete quotation. The complete phrase in the Torah is “shelah et ami veyaavduni — Let My People Go so that they may serve me.” So that they may serve Me and not Pharoah.
At BEKI we justifiably pride ourselves in the degree to which we have emphasized the spiritual well-being of our community. Over the years this community has not squandered its resources building a diamond-studded edifice at the expense of our education, worship or social action. This emphasis on the spiritual is laudable.
Yet given the condition of our building and our level of underendowment I am often saddened to see so many spiritually and religiously hungry people who want to support the goals of the shul have so much of their precious time and energy eaten up by the material concerns of shul administration. Care of the building and fundraising seem to be a treadmill. Would that our Board and active volunteers be free to focus on our spiritual mission of Torah, Avodah and Gemilut Hasadim.
It is with this in mind that we ask BEKI members and supporters to envision our shul with a well-maintained renovated building and an adequate endowment that would allow us to focus on our spiritual mission. God freed you from slavery in Egypt so that you could do God’s work in the world. Help us bring that work forward by investing in the spiritual continuity of Beth El-Keser Israel.
© Jon-Jay Tilsen